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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 October, 2003, 08:02 GMT 09:02 UK
Case study: Iraqi civilian deaths

By Martin Asser
BBC News Online correspondent in Baghdad

On the day Human Rights Watch publishes a report on the suspected killings of dozens of Iraqi civilians by the American army, our correspondent visits survivors of one the most tragic and disturbing cases.

 Anwar Jawad, and daughter Hadil
Only the children's mother, Anwar Jawad, and 14-year-old Hadil survived
To drivers speeding along the main north-south highway through Baghdad, it just looks like a car under a protective cover parked outside a modest house in al-Slaikh district.

It's only on closer inspection that the calamity that occurred in Adil Kawwaz's white Brazilian-built Volkswagen Passat becomes clear.

Adil's brother-in-law Ali Jawad lifts up the blanket to reveal the savage effects of a sustained volley from members of the US Army 1st Armored Division who opened fire without warning on the car on the evening of 7 August.

The bodywork is punctured by more than 20 bullet holes and broken glass fills the inside.

I was happy when the troops came in April and ousted Saddam Hussein, but now I think they are scum
Anwar Jawad
The blood has long dried out, but you can see clearly the dark patches where Adil received his fatal wounds in the driver's seat, and where his daughter Ola, 14, and son Haidar, 19, died where they were seated in the back.

Another daughter, Mirvat, who was 8, died of her wounds - like Adil himself - before being delivered to hospital by the American troops about four hours later.

Only survivors

Opening the boot, Ali brings out a chequered shirt, stiff with dried blood that Adil had been wearing, and Mirvat's tee-shirt, a pattern of cartoon characters and flowers still visible under the dark stains.

On the ledge behind the back seat, a toy nodding dog appears to have had its head blown off by one of the high velocity rounds.

I heard someone shout in English: 'Shoot anything that moves'. They even shot each other. Two of them were laying screaming in the road
Ali Jaburi, witness

Only the children's mother, Anwar Jawad, and another daughter, 14-year-old Hadil, survived the onslaught, which was unleashed on the family after they drove unwittingly up to an American roadblock.

Inside the house, Anwar and Hadil are spending the day at the mother's parents. They live permanently with Adil's family in accordance with the custom here.

Anwar gave birth a week after the shooting and the little baby, Hassan, is held protectively in his grandmother arms. All the women wear black and will continue to do so until a year has passed.

Hadil remains silent during our entire visit, but Anwar retells with great fortitude the terrible events - breaking down only when she comes to the injuries she saw on her youngest daughter.

But there's cold hatred when she alleges that an African American soldier had dragged Hadil from the car by her arm just where it had been cut by shrapnel.

Mirvat Kawwaz's shirt
The cartoons on Mirvat's shirt are still visible through the bloodstains

"When you have been through an experience like that the only thing you fear is God Almighty," she says, when I ask whether she is now afraid when she sees US troops.

Although al-Jazeera television is on in the corner of the room, Anwar does not know Human Rights Watch has published its report today in which her story figures prominently.

Nor is she forthcoming about the issue of compensation from the US troops, though media reports and HRW say the family has received $11,000 from 1st Armored Division coffers on the direct orders of Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez, commander of coalition forces in Iraq.

What she does say is that the family has never received an apology for the incident and they have been told that coalition soldiers are immune from prosecution in cases like these when civilian deaths occur during military operations.

A lawyer is pursuing the case through the Iraqi courts, however, she says.

Unlit street

The car was hit about a kilometre to the east, as Adil was driving his family back home from a visit to the Jawads two hours before curfew.

Anwar says they only saw the two dark green Humvees blocking the unlit road at the last second and the soldiers opened fire without warning as the white Passat approached. The shooting went on for about 10 minutes, she says.

Adil Kawwaz's bullet damaged car
The car was riddled with bullets by the troops manning the checkpoint

That evening troops also shot dead Saif al-Azawi at almost the same spot, as he and two friends were driving fast through the neighbourhood with the radio blaring.

Saif's body was incinerated as the car he was driving caught fire after being hit.

It all happened just outside the Jabari household. Members of the family talk of a scene of chaos breaking out as the troops were searching a nearby house for weapons.

"The Americans seemed to panic," said Ali Jaburi, who witnessed the events.

"As well as the two cars that were hit, they fired indiscriminately all around them. I heard someone shout in English: 'Shoot anything that moves'. They even shot each other. Two of them were laying screaming in the road," says Ali.

There was no indication anyone else opened fire, he adds.

Contradictory accounts

Ali points out a number of bullet marks on his garden wall, gate, and on the house itself that seem to confirm that troops opened fire in different directions.

But broadly speaking Iraqi eyewitness accounts are at odds with the Coalition's version of events.

A military investigation reported by HRW found that a "regrettable incident" took place in al-Slaikh that evening, but troops "acted within the rules of engagement".

Coalition military spokesmen at the time of the incident said the troops had already come under attack during their operation. There are no reports of friendly fire incidents.

"Only God knows why they opened fire on us like that," says Anwar. "I was happy when the troops came in April and ousted Saddam Hussein, but now I think they are scum."

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